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As a male, when you have a child in California, it might seem safe to assume that you automatically have paternity rights. This is usually the case if you and your spouse were married when the child was born. However, if you weren’t married at the time, you might have to establish parentage before you have any legal rights over the child.

Why should you establish parentage?

You might not need to establish parentage if you and your partner are still together or have a successful co-parenting arrangement. But if problems arise, the child’s mother might apply for full custody, leaving you with no custody or visitation rights. According to state law, you must establish parentage before you have any claim over the child.

Establishing parentage isn’t just beneficial for you–it also has a long list of benefits for your child. Once you’ve established parentage, your child has the right to inherit part of your estate if you don’t leave a will. You can also add your child to your health insurance plan and include them in your life insurance policy. Since you’re legally recognized as the child’s parent, your child will have access to family history, medical records and other information. A family law attorney could help you establish paternity of your child.

How do you establish paternity?

To legally establish paternity, you’ll have to file a petition with your local court system. An attorney could help you file the petition and include any requests about child custody, child support and visitation rights. If the other parent disputes your paternity, the court might order you to take a DNA test. You might have to attend a hearing to prove that you’re the father of your child. If you succeed, you’ll have all the legal rights that a father is entitled to.